Historical novel set mainly in Asia, London and USA
Talking Location With … Suzanne Fortin – BRITTANY
3rd July 2021
#TalkingLocationWith.... Suzanne Fortin, author of The Forgotten Life of Arthur Pettinger set in BRITTANY
France has been a much-loved holiday destination for the British, myself included, for many years now. Me and my husband first started visiting France in the early 90s and fell in love with the country and culture, so much so, that in 2003 we bought a cottage of our own to renovate in the Morbihan department of Brittany.
Brittany itself has a rather more gentle and laid back feel to it than other parts of France. Indeed, it’s very popular with the Parisians as it’s just a few hours away by car. It’s also very accessible from the UK if crossing the Channel by ferry. As we live on the south coast of England, with Portsmouth only a twenty-minute drive, we can be in Brittany in a matter of hours.
Back then when we bought our cottage, I had no idea that one day I would be writing a book, The Forgotten Life of Arthur Pettinger, which would be set in the Morbihan region. To be honest, for quite a few years, our visits to France were primarily to renovate our cottage but when we did have some down time, we were able to explore the area. All our little day trips out over the years proved invaluable when it came to research material for my book. I had so many favourite places I wanted to include and which were particularly relevant to the historical side of the story, when Brittany was under occupation by the Germans during WW2.
There is a wealth of information about the occupation and, in particular, about the French Resistance who fought to disrupt the German war effort as much as possible and proved invaluable in the lead up to D-Day and beyond.
The Musée de la Résistance Bretonne in Saint-Marcel was a moving and fascinating place to visit for my research. It is, in fact, built of the very site that was once woodland where the local resistance group lived, trained, organised their attacks from and saw actual fighting as Brittany was liberated after the D-Day Landings.
Some of the displays within the museum have recreated scenes of the fighting as well as what every-day life was like under the occupation. All the displays are very detailed and it was a vital contribution to my research as I could get a real understanding of what it was like during those years. There are some personal accounts and these proved invaluable as it really added to the authenticity of what I was writing, rather than just relying on well-documented war facts.
The nearby town of Malestroit played a prominent part in the Resistance and today is a lovely place to visit. We often go there on a Sunday morning to grab a coffee or a hot chocolate and sit outside people-watching. It is another location I used in my book and although the atmosphere would have been very different during the war, the setting, the streets and the buildings are still very much there and I was able to feed all this into the story.
Morbihan has some wonderful countryside to explore and is great for mountain bike riding and walking. The small village of Lizio is particularly picturesque and every August they hold a village fete with local artisan stalls, entertainment and exhibits. There are nearby walking trails of varying lengths and mountain bike paths, as well as fishing in the lake. Perhaps one of its more unusual exhibits is the selection of life-sized dolls that are displayed throughout the village in the summer months.
If you are in the Lizio area, just a few kilometres away is L’Univers du Poète Ferrailleur. An open-air display of moving sculptures which are quite off-beat but humorous and entertaining. There are lots of hands-on displays for children to interact with and you can easily while-away several hours there looking at everything this unusual and quirky tourist attraction has to offer.
However, as with so many villages and towns within the area, memories of the war are never far away. Apart from the official memorial, on the way out of Lizio heading towards Ploërmel, is a small stone cross on the side of the road with the names of three local men engraved who were captured and executed by the Germans for being part of the Resistance. I have always felt a great sadness when I pass this memorial and initially it was hard to find out any information about the local men but over time this has become recorded online. Their personal stories have stayed with me and although not directly recounted in The Forgotten Life of Arthur Pettinger, I hope I have managed to include the sentiment and acknowledge the sacrifice made by so many men and women in Brittany during the occupation
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